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Wolf Tracks


By Mark Pettifor

The time: 40 years ago. The place: Some small town, anywhere on the US map - pick one.

A middle-aged man walked down the street toward the car dealership several blocks away. Safe in his overcoat pocket was a fattened bank envelope with enough cash to buy a new car. He had been putting a sizable sum of money in the bank every week from his paycheck, with the hopes of someday owning a new car. His hopes were about to become reality.

He walked onto the lot, and greeted the salesman by name. They talk a bit, then came around to the business at hand. After a little haggling, a deal was struck. The man handed the car dealer the envelope, the dealer gave him the keys, and he drove home, content. "What a country this is!" he thought to himself as he pulled into his driveway, honking with pride his brand new horn for his wife and neighbors and the whole world to hear.

Fast forward. The time: 5 years from now. The place: Same town.

A different middle-aged man walked out of the bank, also carrying a closely-guarded envelope of cash. He got into his car and headed toward the car dealership. It was not enough cash to buy the car outright - who could do that nowadays? - but it would make a nice down payment, and help keep the monthly payments low. As his car left the bank parking lot, a bank employee looked up the license number on the car owned by the customer who had just left (part of the information that is required to be kept by the bank to allow anyone to have an account there) and fed the number into the FINCEN tracking service.

This action was initiated because of the large amount of cash that had been withdrawn, and because it didn't fit the "profile" that the bank had established for this customer's normal deposit and withdrawal pattern. After the transaction was completed, the computer screen flashed "INITIATE TRACKING" in big red letters across the screen. "Well," thought the employee as he hit the enter key, "I wonder what his day will be like?"

Because of a law passed requiring all vehicles to have transponders installed on them -- to help lower insurance costs because of car theft, and also to help law enforcement track criminals in runaway vehicles -- the car was able to be tracked almost immediately after leaving the bank, as soon as the license number was entered into the system. The FINCEN tracking service then sent an automatic dispatch to the local police to follow and apprehend the man for questioning.

As the middle-aged man approached the car dealer, he saw lights flashing in the rear-view mirror. Instantly his heart leaped into his throat. People were getting pulled over a lot these days, and some of them were even getting taken down to the police station, even if they haven't done anything. They were asked all kinds of questions about personal stuff -- stuff that nobody had any business knowing about, as far as he was concerned!

He remembered back when he got his license. You weren't afraid of cops then. Unless, of course, you needed to be pulled over. Now, just the sight of those flashing lights sent a chill into him. The ever-present hope that "he wasn't the one" faded as the police car aimed it's spotlight directly in his side mirror. "Well, this is it. I've got a bunch of money on me, and who knows what will happen now?"

The officer approached the car, and asked to see his license, proof of ownership, proof of insurance, and Identification card. As he handed them over, the officer held out what looked like an electronic clipboard. "Thumbprint and signature, please." The man tried to keep his hand from shaking as he applied his thumb to the glowing scan pad - perhaps if he didn't let his anger and fear show, the officer would let him go on his way without any questioning.

After a few minutes back at the police car, the officer came back up. "OK, your ID checks out," he said. But I have a few questions for you to answer. He handed the man a form and a pen to fill it out with. At the top of the form were the words "Investigation and Verification of Cash Transaction", and the amount that the man had with him was right there at the top also. The questions included the following:

1) How do you plan on spending the amount as recorded above? If it is to be spent in more than one place, please note each place and the approximate amount at that place. The total must agree with the amount shown above. Also note the time you plan on spending it, if possible.

2) What is the source of the amount shown above?

There were other questions, like whether he wanted to apply for a special "waiver of investigation" if such cash transactions were a frequent occurrence, for a fee of $250 per year. He filled out the form as completely as he could, and handed the form back to the officer, who then went back to his car for a few more minutes. When he returned, he thanked the man, gave him his copy of the paperwork, and his ID and license and proof of ownership and insurance.

"Everything seems to be in are free to go. Have a nice day."

Free to go. "Whew!" he thought, as he steered back onto the highway. "He didn't even question me or anything! Or take me to the police lucky I am!" He drove into the car lot a few minutes later, totally relieved and content. "What a country this is!" he thought, as he got out of the car and walked toward the sales office. As he entered, a smiling salesman stood and said "Hello Mr. Smith! We've been expecting you! Let's find you a nice car...."

(c)1998 Mark Pettifor

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22 November, 1998